Higgs pioneer and IOP fellow Sir Thomas Kibble has died

3 June 2016

The IOP has paid tribute to Professor Sir Thomas Kibble, an honorary fellow of the IOP and leading contributor to the theoretical work that led to the discovery of the Higgs boson, who died on 2 June at the age of 83.

Higgs pioneer and IOP fellow Sir Thomas Kibble has died
Imperial College London

The IOP’s president, Professor Roy Sambles, said: “As one of the key theoretical physicists in the UK in the 20th century, Professor Kibble was held in very high esteem by the UK physics community. His contributions to mankind through his insight into the origins of mass, and also through establishing astro-particle physics as a new branch of physics, were rightly recognised by a series of prestigious awards.

“Notwithstanding he remained a modest man of quiet distinction and dignity, respected by all who knew him, the many students he lectured and supervised and the academics he collaborated with. His contributions to the UK physics community were recognised by the Institute of Physics through the award of its distinguished Dirac Medal and also an honorary fellowship. He will be sadly missed and we express our heartfelt condolences to his family.”

Professor Sir Peter Knight, a past president of the IOP, said: “He was one of my all-time heroes. He is quoted many times for his 1964 paper with Guralnik and Hagen on what is now called the Higgs mechanism. But it’s worth stressing that all the 1964 papers, including Higgs, used toy models. Important and ground-breaking, but still toys. It was Tom’s paper in 1967 – a sole author paper – that worked out for the first time how to do this in a proper relativistic field theory manner that became the foundation for the Standard Model.

“I had always thought that Tom had a compelling case for the Nobel for this particular paper. Tom also was a founding father of astroparticle physics, especially ideas on cosmic strings. And amusingly, when he was promoted to professor at Imperial his inaugural lecture (I have a copy) talked almost entirely about coherent states and laser interactions with electrons – a pioneer in quantum optics too.

“He was a gentle thoughtful man, who led the department at Imperial during some difficult times yet maintained morale and gave us a sense of style and worth. We will miss him enormously.”

Professor Jerome Gauntlett, head of theoretical physics at Imperial College London, said: “Professor Sir Tom Kibble was distinguished for his ground-breaking research in theoretical physics and his work has contributed to our deepest understanding of the fundamental forces of nature. He is best known for his seminal work in the 1960s that led to the concept of a new elementary particle now known as the Higgs boson, a key feature of the Standard Model of particle physics. The existence of this particle was confirmed experimentally by the Large Hadron Collider at CERN in 2012.

“Professor Kibble was also a major pioneer in applying ideas of high-energy physics to study the early universe. For his fundamental contributions, he was awarded numerous prizes and awards throughout his illustrious career, during which he conducted himself with extraordinary modesty and integrity. He was held in the highest esteem and with great affection by his colleagues and students alike. He will be very sadly missed and we extend our deepest condolences to the Kibble family.”

A fuller obituary will be published soon on the Institute’s Obituaries page on MyIOP. The funeral of Sir Thomas Kibble will be held on Friday, 17 June. For details, email Robert Kibble.